The midnight desert always held a special holiness for Lester. In the time after Jacob had left home, he’d tiptoe around his father’s drunken mass and out to the porch to watch the stars poke holes in the darkness, sky that same color as the onyx pieces he’d find when digging in the fields. He’d listen to the javelinas huffing through the fields, the bats and owls flapping through the night. It was about the only time that, despite there only being the two of them, the air felt still inside the house. Lester tried to let it all absorb into his skin like salamanders did water, carry it with him until the calm evaporated.
Hurtling through the night desert on two wheels, though, that was no time for Lester to become lost in revelry, revisiting a time that was probably only worth its salt when the memories were covered in dust. Lester wove around saguaro cacti, squinting his eyes to keep watch for the shimmer of moonlight on a kangaroo rat’s back, the highlighted fur of a jackrabbit. He opened the throttle for a moment then pulled it back, telling himself that an extra few miles-per-hour wouldn’t help his family when he hit a rock and split his head open like a walnut, leaving himself splayed out for the coyotes.
When he’d heard that Jacob had become part of the law, Lester understood. It was a logical step, considering their childhood, that he’d want to effect some peace and order. He never could figure out why Jacob ended up in El Pozo, though. Maybe it was the same reason Mabel’s granddaddy had for being in Ningunita, that his legs just couldn’t carry him any farther. The literal translation of El Pozo was hole, but held a meaning closer to pit or cesspool. Lester’d tried to teach his son, Nathaniel, a few words in Spanish and Navajo, hoping it might help him get on with some of the boys in town. He also showed him how to shoot, using the water tower as a target. Just in case the language familiarity didn’t work. To Lester, every shot Nathaniel lodged in the metal side of the tower was a bullet in his daddy’s chest. They would shoot every afternoon until Marnie called them in for dinner.
Off in the distance, a faint pink glow became visible over the horizon. El Pozo shouldn’t be too much farther. Lester opened the throttle.
He pulled into town as the sun crested above the mesas. Main Street slumbered before him, the storefronts dimmed. The only people he encountered were a few milkmen and young boys on bikes throwing newspapers. He stopped into the one restaurant with lights on and asked where he might find the police.
The wrinkled man behind the counter cocked his head, considering Lester. ‘Where you from, son?’
He set plates out on the counter for future customers, a fork and knife on each one. ‘We ain’t had police for a spell. Sheriff got rid of them when he came on. Picked himself up two deputies. Now they keep watch, make sure things are as they like.’
Lester glanced outside. A row of wooden posts stood before the restaurant, fairly pointless except for tying up a dog during the meal. Maybe Jacob had been promoted to deputy. If not, they would probably know where to find him.
‘Where could I find this sheriff, then?’
The wrinkled man pulled off a meal ticket, licked the tip of the pencil a few times and drew a crude map. Lester slipped it into his pocket.
The man called out to Lester, ‘Sure you don’t want some coffee first?’ but Lester just let the door slam.
It was more of a house than a station, where the map led him. Lester was hesitant to knock, fearing the old man might’ve been pulling some local stunt, but his eyes were burning with a lack of sleep and he let his hand fall on the brass knocker. The sound echoed through the inside of the house. After a long quite minute, Lester debated knocking again, then turned around to leave. He stopped when the door opened.
‘I can help you?’ The voice was older and had been soaked in grain alcohol then left out in the sun and wind, but Lester would’ve recognized it anywhere.
He turned around and waited, watched as recognition crept across Jacob’s face.
‘Holy hell,’ Jacob said. ‘You got big.’
‘There was only one of us to eat. I almost got a full-portion.’
‘You always were crafty.’ Jacob gave his best smile and Lester saw his blunt and gnarled teeth. They were the same color as the star badge pinned to his left breast. He wondered if Jacob slept in his uniform, lest someone commandeer it during the night and assume power.
‘You got a bed I can use a spell?’
‘You hear about the world-famous beds of El Pozo and come to see for yourself?’
Lester propped himself up against a porch post. He swallowed, keeping the rising blackness of exhaustion from overtaking him. ‘Hank McCray took Marnie and Nathaniel. I don’t give him back his land, I don’t get back my family.’
‘Daddy won it from Buck McCray in a card game.’
‘Daddy always cheated at poker.’
Jacob shrugged. ‘So?’
‘So I’m going to lie down a bit, then track him down and gut him where he stands.’ Lester pushed himself off the post and took two steps toward the house. ‘So, Sheriff, can I use your bed or what?’
Lester woke to the sound of banging. He ground his palms against his eyes, trying to get himself together. The banging continued. In the breezeway, he could see the blood red glow of a setting sun pass through the window. Someone was knocking on the door. He opened it to find a young man in his dress browns, presumably one of the deputies.
The man pushed past Lester, his head on a swivel. ‘Why’d you lock the door?’
‘I just woke up.’
When the deputy found the adjacent rooms suitably empty, he grabbed Lester’s arm, pulling him out the door. ‘Sheriff tracked down the man with your family.’
‘Where?’ Lester started toward his bike.
Nik Korpon is the author of STAY GOD, OLD GHOSTS, BY THE NAILS OF THE WARPRIEST and BALTIMORE STORIES: VOLUMES ONE and TWO. His stories have bloodied the pages and screens of Crime Factory, Shotgun Honey, 3:AM, Out of the Gutter, Everyday Genius, Speedloader, Warmed&Bound and a bunch more. He is an editor for Dirty Noir and Rotten Leaves, and reviews books for Spinetingler, NoirJournal and The Nervous Breakdown. He also co-hosts LAST SUNDAY, LAST RITES, a monthly reading series. He lives in Baltimore.
‘Edge of town.’ The deputy opened the door of his cruiser, watching Lester.
‘You better drive fast, son.’ He kicked over the engine a few times but the only response he got was a sad sputter. He shook the bike back and forth and opened the gas tank. He must’ve been more sleep deprived than he thought, because he’d normally never leave himself with less than a quarter tank, and he thought he’d filled up on the way back from Mexico. No telling how long you’d be before seeing another filling station. In his life, never had he been that tired nor careless.
The deputy called over to him, said to get in. Lester set the bike upright and climbed into the passenger seat, barely closing the door before the deputy spit rocks with his tires. Lester watched the dust cloud fade behind him.
‘You got a gun?’ the deputy said.
‘No. Should I?’
The boy glanced down at his own holster for a flash then kept his eyes on the horizon and drove.
They pulled up to an abandoned quarry as the sun whispered below the horizon. In the parking lot, Lester saw another dented cruiser parked at a severe angle. He had the door open before the deputy had even stopped and sprinted to the main building. The pieces of corrugated metal siding weren’t plumb with one another, giving the impression the building had been erected quickly and without much thought to structural integrity. The door stood cracked open. Lester had just laid his hand on the knob when the deputy spit rocks again, the tail-end of the car swerving as he tore away from the quarry. Lester pulled the bowie knife from his boot and entered.